AEW’s return to Colorado: Bright lights, big stars and a return to Broomfield

Casey Blanchard and his son, Dominick, walked from the box office hours before showtime Wednesday night at Broomfield’s 1stBANK Center with their tickets already in hand. The overcast skies continued to turn gray, the temperature continued to plummet and drops of rain, which would eventually turn to snow, filled the air.

But the lifetime professional wrestling fans knew, like many others, that All Elite Wrestling’s return to Colorado after nearly three years was going to be the polar opposite of the weather outside. It was going to be red-hot for the 4,000-plus fans inside the building.

AEW made its long-awaited return to Broomfield for the first time since March 4, 2020, an inauspicious occurrence. That was the penultimate event for the fledgling company — barely a year old at the time — before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world. For the next year-plus, shows were held mostly in the company’s base of Jacksonville, Fla., before limited fans, mostly their peers.

But now it was back and in front of a crowd in Colorado.

The Blanchards traveled from Fort Collins for the event. They’ve seen AEW in the past, including the aforementioned March 2020 event, as well as in Las Vegas in May 2022. But they appreciated that the company was back in Broomfield for the first time in 33 months.

“It’s in Colorado, and we love wrestling,” said Casey Blanchard, who said that he started watching pro wrestling in the late 1980s. “… The fact that it came to Colorado, we’re all in on it.”

For some, Wednesday’s show was well worth a much farther drive.

Aileen and Marcus Lopez drove six hours from Ohkay Owingeh, N.M.,, to attend the show. This wasn’t the first time they ventured away from home to see AEW. They traveled nine hours earlier this year to see the company in Las Vegas as well.

Live, ‘a different vibe’

AEW, which began in 2019, was to have debuted in New Mexico in May 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic shut down that show. It was rescheduled for Dec. 30, 2020, but, again, the pandemic deterred those plans. Then came Wednesday night at the 1stBANK Center.

“We didn’t hesitate,” Aileen Lopez said about buying tickets and traveling north. “I didn’t care what the cost (of the tickets) was.”

The adrenaline rush that one gets from being at a show in person, Casey Blanchard said, is why he and his son made the trek down Interstate 25. He compared it to baseball. While one may not draw that same enthusiasm watching a game on television, it’s just a different vibe being in the crowd. But with wrestling, there’s the music, the fireworks, and the fist-thumping, bone-bruising action that draws the fans in.

For Aurora resident Tyra Hyman, this was her first time seeing AEW live. A wrestling fan since she was 9, the pomp and circumstance are what lure her in as a spectator.

“The acrobatics, the skills, the athleticism,” Hyman said. “Also, the characters. They have so many unique characters. Also even the gear at times. I like to sew, so one of my goals in life is to become a professional wrestling costume designer.”

Whereas this was Hyman’s first AEW adventure, Jake Little and his daughter, Izabel, were seeing AEW for the second time in mere months. The family from Parker traveled in October to Cincinnati to see a show, in part, because they didn’t know if or when it would return to Colorado.

“We didn’t think they would come back,” Jake Little said. “They had not traveled west since they started doing live shows again (after the pandemic). This is the furthest, and now they’re headed out to California.”

All Elite Wrestling debuted in California this past June following the Las Vegas event on Memorial Day weekend, but trips to the Mountain Time Zone had been nonexistent until now.

And it’s not just the fans who draw energy from the live atmosphere. It’s the wrestlers themselves who appreciate the synergy coming from the audience and they reciprocate with their performance in the ring.

For one of those performers — Ethan Page — Wednesday was a career moment. The 33-year-old Hamilton, Ontario native, who now resides in Michigan, wrestled one of AEW’s top stars Bryan Danielson, a former WWE champion. It was their first meeting and Page’s first time stepping foot in a ring in Colorado in his 16-year career. It’s a moment that he will cherish.

“For me, any kind of big match with AEW is a big chance. And Bryan being one of the biggest starts in the company, for me to be able to showcase my talent with someone of his caliber is absolutely a real opportunity and a dream come true scenario for me career wise,” Page said. “Knowing that I was getting booed out of the building pretty much the entire time (Page wrestles as a “bad guy”) was a great pat on the back. But there was a moment when the crowd was dueling chants for myself and for Bryan. For me to able to earn the respect of the audience with one of the greatest wrestlers of all time and to be treated as an equal was a big accomplishment for me even in losing the match.”

The opportunity — both with whom he was wrestling but also where — wasn’t lost on Page, who was cognizant of the appreciation from the crowd who carried signs supporting him, be it with his nickname “All Ego,” or drawings of him pointing his finger at his smile.

“When the pandemic was ending and we were bringing people back to the arena that was a feeling. We didn’t get that for about two years,” Page said. “To finally get that again to have that opportunity to perform for more than just your peers was incredible.

“And when you’re talking about coming to Colorado for the first time since then, you’re talking about an audience that hasn’t seen their form of entertainment live for two-plus years. It’s why we had one of the hottest crowds in a long while because it was fresh to the Colorado audience. We had a great set of fans.”

A foot in the door

The four-plus hour show also provided an opportunity for Colorado’s local performers to get a foot in the door with the second-largest professional wrestling company in the United States, be it working on AEW’s flagship program “Dynamite” or “Rampage” or “Dark Elevation.”

One of those was Tyra Russamee, a Thailand-born professional wrestler who started performing in December 2015. She opened Wednesday night’s card against former AEW women’s champion Hikaru Shida.

Emblazoned in her red, white and blue gear, Russamee stepped through the ropes to rousing cheers from hometown fans chanting her name for a tear-invoking moment for the Colorado resident.

“I was not expecting that,” said Russamee, who has wrestled in 11 countries and can typically be found wrestling every weekend somewhere in the state for any number of local promotions — Primos, Lucha, Libre and Laughs, Colorado Springs Wrestling, New Era and more.

But that in itself showed the importance Wednesday night for the local wrestlers to be selfless, humble and learn from the best. It was a fulfilling platform that showed them that their goal for national achievement is not only attainable but that it’s also not impossible.

“Some of them didn’t dare, or want to, come out of their comfort zone,” Russamee said. “My advice is to be open to every experience — small role or big role. All that knowledge can be useful. Always be prepared to be on call.”

As Russamee was, when the call rang out to serve as an extra as a member of the EMT team as part of the show.

Whether it was an in-ring role, serving as an EMT member or arm candy for another performer, AEW’s return opened the door for television exposure for Colorado’s independent performers, who might not get the international exposure otherwise.

The night didn’t come without its bumps in the road, or in Russamee’s case, a slight concussion and nicked-up jaw, but those paled in comparison to the opportunity for worldwide promotion. A wonderful experience. Powerful. Uplifting. More exposure. Not wanting to be complacent.

“I’m still dreaming. I don’t want to wake up,” Russamee said.

For one night, AEW was back in Broomfield.

“I’ve said it over and over, we’re not really back. It’s not all the way back until we get (expletive) back to Broomfield,” AEW superstar and former three-time world champion Jon Moxley told the live crowd at the end of Wednesday’s event.

“We’re (expletive) back.”

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